Category Archive: Theology – Christology
That Psalm 8, followed by Hebrews 2, speaks of a transition from being “lower than the angels” to being exalted over them sounds the death knell for the “chain of being” view held by so many throughout history. In this view, God is at the top of the chain, with angels — as spiritual beings or pure intelligences — below him, human beings — who are a blend, both spiritual and material — lower still, the beasts beneath them, and so on. Though there might be the possibility that man might rise in glory, the angels too would be continually rising above them, so that the order of the chain never changes. But if man, created “lower than the angels,” is then exalted over them, the chain is no longer static, with each creature in the place “rationally” assigned to it. Furthermore, if man can be exalted over the angels, the idea that matter is inherently lower than spirit must also give way, since Jesus is fully human, with a human body, and yet is exalted over the angels” — “The Glory of the Son of Man: An Exposition of Psalm 8,” The Glory of Kings: A Festschrift in Honor of James B. Jordan, 17n49.
As James Jordan points out (in the passage I quoted here), the communion of saints is not that I am connected to you and you are connected to me, but that you are in Christ and I am in Christ and we are united in Him. He is the connecting link between Christians. Jordan’s application had to do with the possibility of speaking to the saints and asking them to pray for us. But what he says also bears rich fruit for our comfort when we lose loved ones.
When a loved one dies, so much is left unsaid. We want to tell Grandpa how much we love him. We wish he could know what we’re doing. Sometimes, we wish we could ask his forgiveness for wrongs we’ve committed. But there is no indication in Scripture that our loved ones in heaven are now watching everything that we do, let alone that they can hear what we might say to them.
But then our communion with Grandpa was never first and foremost our family relationship or the fact that we could see him face to face or that the words from our mouths could reach his ear. Our communion with Grandpa was first of all in Christ: He was in Christ, and so were we. And that hasn’t changed. Jesus is still the connecting link, and Jesus does see what we do and hear what we say. Which means that if you have anything you want to say to Grandpa, you can tell Jesus about it and ask him to pass the message along.
Can Grandpa hear you? Scripture doesn’t say. But Jesus can, and he can and will pass on any message that he thinks it best to pass on. Which is a great thing to tell grieving grandchildren who wish they could say one more thing to Grandpa.
In his lectures on Colossians, Jim Jordan takes a short rabbit trail to talk about our communion with the saints, including the saints in heaven:
Hebrews 12 says that when we come to church — and at other times, because heaven is really always open to us — we have communion with the angels and with the saints in heaven. So … you can talk to them, can’t you? If they’re all around us, we can ask them to put in a good word for us, can’t we?
But if you’re in Christ, you’re as close to the throne as you can get. Dying and going to heaven doesn’t put you any closer to God than you already are. You may feel the closeness more, but you’re not any closer.
On Wednesday night, we share prayer requests. So if we’re all in heaven, why can’t I ask Saint Athanasius to pray for me? Why can’t I ask Mary to pray for me? We’re all in the same room, aren’t we? Lots of branches of the church have made this case. When Orthodox and Roman Catholics “pray” to the saints, this is what they have in mind.
The Protestant response is this: When we’re in worship, we’re in heaven with the saints and angels — and with all the other Christians in the world. But can I stand here and ask Robbie Peele in Atlanta, right here and now: “Robbie, please pray for me”? No! He can’t hear me. It’s true that we’re together, but it doesn’t follow that the saints can hear us. Theologically, we’re all together. But we have no reason to think that Athanasius can hear us.
Theologically speaking, the mistake is this: The reason we’re all together is not that we’re all in the same room and so we can now approach Christ. Rather, we’ve all approached Christ and now, as a result, we’re in the same room. Jesus Christ is the connecting point for the church. The connecting point for all of us in the room is not this way: I’m connected to you and you’re connected to me. The connecting point is through Christ and back. We’re connected to Athanasius through Christ and back. If you want to communicate with him, you have to go through the central trunk line, through Jesus Christ. For all I know, the departed spirits do run errands for Christ (as Samuel is assigned to come back and speak to Saul). But we can’t talk to them directly. Everything is through Christ. It is through Christ that we have access to angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. You can’t talk to them.
John does not describe the transfiguration, as the other Gospels do; in a sense, John’s whole story is about the transfiguration. He invites us to be still and know; to look again into the human face of Jesus of Nazareth, until the awesome knowledge comes over us, wave upon terrifying wave, that we are looking into the human face of the living God. And he leads us on, with our awe and bewilderment reaching its height, to the point where we realize that the face is most recognizable when it wears the crown of thorns. When John says, “We beheld his glory,” he is thinking supremely of the cross. And those who see this glory in this cross are, very shortly afterwards, commissioned to follow the one who has made this glory visible. — N. T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, 34.
In Mark 13:32, Jesus says, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (cf. Matt. 24:36). That’s somewhat puzzling. Is it a limitation on Jesus’ omniscience, as if God the Father knows things that God the Son doesn’t? That can’t be. So is it saying that Jesus as a man doesn’t know things that God the Son knows? Even so, that’s still puzzling.
A friend of mine argued once for a different approach: When Jesus says that even the Son does not know the day and hour, he said, he is speaking of knowing something in order to pass it on to others. Neither the angels nor the Son has been given the knowledge of the day and hour in the sense that neither is commissioned to reveal it and make it known to us.
I haven’t studied this passage and so I won’t claim that this is the right interpretation. But the other day, I was reading Augustine’s exposition of Psalm 10 (Psalm 9, part 2, for Augustine). In that exposition, he mentions those passages in Mark 13 and Matthew 24. Lo and behold, he says exactly what my friend said:
What, then, is so hidden as that which is said to be hidden even from the judge himself, not as far as his knowing it is concerned, but as regards his revealing it? (Expositions of the Psalms, 1:158, emphasis mine).
THE CIRCUMCISION OF CHRIST
A Meditation for January 1, 2005.
January 1 is New Year’s Day. The old has ended; the new has begun. But on the church’s traditional calendar, January 1 is also the feast of Jesus’ circumcision and His naming. Though we won’t be considering those events in our service, it is worthwhile for us to meditate on them today. [This article was originally published in the January 2 bulletin.]
A NEW CREATION
Luke tells us that “when eight days were completed,” Jesus was circumcised (2:21). When God established His covenant with Abram, He gave him circumcision as the sign of the covenant, not only for Abram himself but also for every male in his house. In the case of infants, that circumcision was to take place when the child was eight days old (Gen. 17:12).
But what is so significant about the eight day? To answer that question, we have to recognize first that the numbers in the Bible are symbols. We recognize that, of course, with numbers such as 7, which many commentaries acknowledge often has to do with fullness, or 12, which often points to the twelve tribes of Israel.
To understand the symbolism, however, we have to be familiar with the Scriptures. The significance of the number 7 comes from the seven days of creation in Genesis 1-2. And so does the significance of the eighth day.
The eighth day is the day after the seventh day and it symbolizes the beginning of a new creation. The world that was created in seven days was corrupted through Adam’s sin. But God established His covenant with Abram and his descendants and He wanted that covenant signified on the eighth day as a sign that He would establish a new creation.
Circumcision wasn’t required for a man to be forgiven or to have fellowship with God. All through the time of the Old Covenant, we find countless Gentiles â€” uncircumcised men â€” who are believers. Gentiles were allowed to bring offerings and to eat and drink in God’s presence, just as much as Jews were.
But only those who were circumcised (or, in the case of women, who were in the households of the circumcised) were allowed to partake of the Passover. Circumcision formed Israel into God’s special priestly people, the people through whom God would take away the curse on man’s sin and spread blessing to the world. Through Israel, through the circumcised people, God would bring about a new creation.
Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day is thus His inclusion in God’s Old Covenant people, the people of Israel. Jesus is identified with them. More than that, He is going to be the ultimate Israel, the faithful Israel, the one who bears the curse away by bearing it Himself, the one through whom God’s blessing comes to the nations.
Paul tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross was a circumcision (Col. 2:11). It was what every circumcision pointed toward, the destruction of the old man, the putting off of the flesh, the life inherited from Adam. Man was created on the sixth day, and Jesus died as a man in man’s place on the sixth day.
But on the eighth day, the other side of circumcision was fulfilled. Jesus didn’t simply put off the old. He is the new. Jesus rose on the eighth day as the firstfruits of God’s new creation.
Paul says that those who have been “buried with Him in baptism” now have been circumcised. We now share in the “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” and we are no longer dead but alive (Col. 2:11ff.). In Christ, we are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), God’s new creation.
Incidentally, that’s why baptismal fonts traditionally have eight sides. They’re designed to remind us of circumcision on the eighth day, of the resurrection on the eighth day, and what our baptism mean for us. We have been incorporated into Christ and are a new creation in Him.
A NEW NAME
Luke says that “when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).
The Law didn’t stipulate that the day of circumcision was to be the day of naming, but that was the practice in Jesus’ case. Jesus’ naming on the eighth day is a promise: the new creation will be brought about by Him because He is God’s Son to whom the Lord God would give the throne of David to reign forever (Luke 1:31-33).
At our baptism, even if it isn’t on the eighth day of our lives, we also receive a new name. Through baptism, we become members of Christ’s body (1 Cor. 12:12-13). We share in His name and in what it signifies. We share in the privilege of reigning with Him and we share also in His calling to humble ourselves and suffer for the sake of the gospel so that others can share with us in God’s new creation.
On the eighth day â€” which is Sunday, the first day of the new week â€” we assemble to remember and become God’s new creation, to remember and grow into our new identity and our new name as the body of Christ Jesus.
That’s not a bad thing to remember on January 1, the feast of the circumcision and naming of Jesus and the beginning of another year in which Jesus rules the world on the throne of David.
As I work through Calvin’s Institutes, I occasionally find things that raise my eyebrows. Recently, I was reading II.xiv.2 and 3. In 2, Calvin wants to give some examples of things that belong strictly to Christ’s divinity (e.g., being before all things), things that belong strictly to Christ’s humanity (e.g., increasing in wisdom), and places where the properties or characteristics of one are attributed to the other (e.g., God purchasing the church with his own blood).
In the second section, Calvin lists increasing in age and wisdom, not seeking his own glory, not knowing the Last Day, not speaking by himself, not doing his own will, and being seen and handled. All, Calvin says, are things which
refer solely to Christ’s humanity. In so far as he is God, he cannot increase in anything, and does all things for his own sake; nothing is hidden from him; he does all things according to the decision of his will, and can be neither seen nor handled. Yet he does not ascribe these qualities solely to his human nature, but takes them upon himself as being in harmony with the person of the Mediator.
I can’t say that I find this account entirely satisfactory. Calvin seems to think, for instance, that God always seeks his own glory (“does all things for his own sake”) and that therefore if Christ is said not to seek his own glory that statement must refer to Christ’s human nature. But in thinking this way, it seems as if Calvin is leaving the Trinity out of the picture: he’s dealing with God, that is, but not with the Triune God, not with a God who is three persons in a relationship of love, each of whom seeks the glory of the others. It isn’t “unGodlike” for Christ not to seek his own glory but to seek the glory of the Father. (Of course, maybe my complaint is that Calvin hadn’t read Jeff Meyers.)
I’m also not entirely comfortable with saying that as God Jesus couldn’t be seen. That doesn’t seem to fit with what Scripture tells us, namely, that man is made in God’s image, that Jesus is the true image of God, and that the disciples, seeing Jesus, saw not just his humanity but his glory, the glory of the only-begotten son of God (John 1:14). To see him, Jesus says, is to see the Father (John 14:9).
In II.xiv.3, Calvin writes something else that puzzles me. He’s working with 1 Cor. 15:24, where Christ is said to deliver the kingdom to “his God and Father.” Calvin writes:
For what purpose were power and lordship given to Christ, unless that by his hand the Father might govern us? In this sense also, Christ is said to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Yet this is but for a time, until we enjoy the direct vision of the Godhead. Here we cannot excuse the error of the ancient writers who pay no attention to the person of the Mediator, obscure the real meaning of almost all the teaching one reads in the Gospel of John, and entangle themselves in many snares. Let this, then, be our key to right understanding: those things which apply to the office of Mediator are not spoken simply either of the divine nature or of the human. Until he comes forth as judge of the world Christ will therefore reign, joining us to the Father as the measure of our weakness permits. But when as partakers in heavenly glory we shall see God as he is, Christ, having then discharged the office of Mediator, will cease to be the ambassador of his Father, and will be satisfied with that glory which he enjoyed before the creation of the world.And the name “Lord” exclusively belongs to the person of Christ only in so far as it represents a degree midway between God and us. Paul’s statement accords with this: “One God â€” from whom are all things â€” and one Lord â€” through whom are all things” (1 Cor. 8:6). That is, to him was lordship committed by the Father, until such time as we should see his divine majesty face to face. Then he returns the lordship to his Father so that – far from diminishing his own majesty – it may shine all the more brightly. Then, also, God shall cease to be the Head of Christ, for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although as yet it is covered by a veil.
Now there are many things that baffle me about this passage.
(1) Calvin says that Christ is seated at God’s right hand only for a time. It’s true that 1 Cor. 15 talks about Christ delivering up the kingdom to God and I’ll admit that I’m not too clear about the significance of that, but â€” will Christ cease being king at that point?
(2) Calvin says we will someday “enjoy the direct vision of the Godhead.” It seems that Calvin is making a contrast between the direct vision we’ll enjoy at that time and the (I guess) indirect vision that we enjoy right now â€” and part of that indirectness, given the context of the sentence, is that Christ is ruling as king. Odd.
And odd, too, is the phrase “the Godhead.” Did Stephen see “the Godhead”? No, he saw the Father and the Son. When we see God, will we no longer see Christ (the Son)? Will we see only “the Unity”? Is Calvin really thinking like a Trinitarian when he uses this phrase? Or am I being too hard on him? Am I misunderstanding him?
(3) Calvin says that, when we see “God as he is,” then Christ’s mediatorial work will be done and he will no longer be “the ambassador of his Father.” That seems to imply that we will then have direct access to God instead of access to God in Christ. Christ will no longer be our mediator. All of that sounds very weird to me.
(4) Calvin indicates that the name “Lord” refers to “a degree midway between God and us,” and in fact it’s apparently something that obscures Christ’s majesty, since Calvin says that Christ’s majesty will shine more brightly when he hands the lordship over to his Father. That, too, sounds exceedingly strange. Or am I misunderstanding Calvin here?
(5) Calvin says that God will, at that time, no longer be Christ’s head. (It’s as if, to use some people’s terminology, the economic Trinity is only temporary and, on the last day, reverts to being just the ontological Trinity.)
(6) The reason Calvin gives seems equally odd to me: “for Christ’s own deity will shine of itself, although as yet it is covered by a veil.” What is that veil? From the context, it would appear to be Christ’s mediatorial office, Christ’s lordship, and/or possibly Christ’s being human. Is Calvin implying that Christ will no longer be human at that time? He certainly appears to being saying that Christ will no longer be the mediator. But in what sense is Christ’s mediatorial office or lordship (let alone humanity) an obscuring or veiling of his majesty and deity?
All of this is quite puzzling to me. Can anyone help me out? Am I misunderstanding Calvin or is Calvin rather confused (confusing) at this point?
Does the resurrection give us a mandate for social change?Because resurrection is a creation-affirming doctrine, it also goes with the desire to change injustice in the present. That’s why I love the epigraph at the beginning of the book’s final part â€” a quote from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, where Herod hears about Jesus raising the dead. He says, “I forbid him to raise the dead. This man must be found and told I don’t allow people to raise the dead.” Herod knows, as all tyrants know, that if somebody is going about raising the dead, then their power has met a greater power.
If you believe in resurrection, you believe that the living God will put his world to rights and that if God wants to do that in the future, it is right to try to anticipate that by whatever means in the present. It is your job as a Christian, in the power of the Spirit, to anticipate that glorious final state as much as you possibly can. Live now by the power that is coming to you from the future, by the Spirit. It is up to us to produce signs of resurrection in the present social, cultural, and political world.
How does that apply to the academy?
Within the Enlightenment world of the last two centuries, we see a horror of the idea that God might actually act in the world. They want God banished upstairs so they can get on with running the world downstairs. But with the resurrection, we have God saying, “No, I want to put things downstairs to rights, thank you very much. I started doing it with Jesus and you’d better get in line.” That’s a shock to liberal theology, just like it’s a shock to all kinds of other tyrannies â€” and liberal theology has become its own sort of tyranny.
Two more quotations from Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus:
The mission of the church … can be summed up in the phrase “reflected glory.” It is precisely through engaging in the christological task, focusing on Jesus and allowing our picture of God to be shaped thereby not as a detached intellectual exercise but as the very heart of our worship, our praying, our thinking, our preaching and our living, that we are enabled to reflect that glory. When we see, as Paul says, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and when we discover the length and breadth of what that phrase means, we see and discover this not for our own benefit but so that the glory may shine in us and through us, to bring light and life to the world that still waits in darkness and the shadow of death (pp. 124-125).
And toward the end of the book:
But if we are to be kingdom-announcers, modeling the new way of being human, we are also to be crossbearers. This is a strange and dark theme that is also our birthright as followers of Jesus. Shaping our world is never for a Christian a matter of going out arrogantly thinking we can just get on with the job, reorganizing the world according to some model that we have in mind. It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point. Because Jesus bore the cross uniquely for us, we do not have to purchase forgiveness again; it’s been done. But because, as he himself said, following him involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the pattern of our life over and over again (pp. 188-189).
George links to this article by Henry Morris (from the Institute for Creation Research) in which Morris claims that God created Jesus’ human nature ex nihilo and then plunked it down in Mary’s womb. Jesus did not receive his human nature in any way from Mary.
I was a little surprised to find that anyone still holds this view. Many of the early Anabaptists also taught this heresy, as Dr. Jelle Faber shows. The Belgic Confession, art. 18, addresses this heresy as it proclaims the good news of Christ’s birth:
We confess, therefore, that God has fulfilled the promise He made to the fathers by the mouth of His holy prophets when, at the time appointed by Him, He sent into the world His own only-begotten and eternal Son, who took the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men (Phil 2:7). He truly assumed a real human nature with all its infirmities, without sin, for He was conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by the act of a man. He not only assumed human nature as to the body, but also a true human soul, in order that He might be a real man. For since the soul was lost as well as the body, it was necessary that He should assume both to save both.
Contrary to the heresy of the Anabaptists, who deny that Christ assumed human flesh of His mother, we therefore confess that Christ partook of the flesh and blood of the children (Heb. 2:14). He is a fruit of the loins of David (Acts 2:30); born of the seed of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3); a fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary (Luke 1:42); born of woman (Gal 4:4); a branch of David (Jer 33:15); a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Is 11:1); sprung from the tribe of Judah (Heb 7:14); descended from the Jews according to the flesh (Rom 9:5); of the seed of Abraham, since the Son was concerned with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in every respect, yet without sin (Heb 2:16; Heb 4:15).
In this way He is in truth our Immanuel, that is, God with us (Mt 1:23).
Heresy robs us of our Christmas joy! Jesus wasn’t just a humanoid. He wasn’t a human-looking thing with no connection to the human race. He was (and still is) a descendant of Adam and Abraham and David, part of our human family. Only if that is true could he be the kinsman redeemer we need and the Saviour God promised. There’s no redemption without relationship. And so God’s eternal Son took on our human nature from His mother Mary to be Adam’s Son, our brother, and the Saviour who is truly God with us. Joy to the world!
Just in time for Easter, Paul Buckley of the Dallas Morning News has posted an article on the resurrection entitled “‘Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum’: Sure about that?” by Joel Garver. Here’s a snippet:
… Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning was not simply an assurance that there is life after death or that Christ is still with us. Rather it is an announcement that God’s plan to renew the world is now under way through Jesus. There will indeed be a renewed created world and a renewed, embodied humanity. That is what Christian hope is all about.
In a grave they laid you, O my Life and my Christ;
and the armies of the angels were sore amazed
as they sang the praise of your submissive love.
Right it is indeed, life-bestowing Lord, to magnify You;
for upon the Cross were Your most-pure hands outspread,
and the strength of our dread foe have You destroyed.
John Tavener, Lamentations and Praises.